5 Places to Run Far Away from Winter

Winter is really playing hard against my meteorological patience. The German winter one, famous for its negative temperatures – -13C a couple of early  mornings ago – and persistence – once upon a time, I lived to see snow in the happy month of April no less. True is that the summer was very hot this year and the cold season started really only from January. But anyway,  for someone like me, winter is synonimous with bad mood, ugly clothing and limited freedom travel. It also means more than one book finished the day, many coffees and a lot of blogging.

This time of the year I am usually out of Germany till February, in much warmer places, from where I nonchalantly post sunny images on my social media channels. There are many warm places waiting for me and promise to visit soon – anyone said Bahamas? or Cuba? or Zanzibar? -, but as for now, I made a short list of my favourites that I already had the chance to visit in the last years.

  1. Lisbon, Portugal

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Lisbon, and Portugal in general, is one of my pleasant European travel memories. I loved to discover the people, the great food – the wine and the morning pastry are unforgettable – and so many cities that can be visited for one day trips, such as Sintra or Porto. I stayed in the fancy area of Cascais, around 25 minutes by train to the centre of the capital city and I was very happy with my choice, especially after I discovered a very special museum of musical instruments. I went there in one December and I had only one windy and rainy day in almost three weeks of stay.

2. Barcelona, Spain

It is a very touristic and crowded place, especially if you plan to celebrate the New Year’s Eve, but for a change one can try to pay a visit to the South of France for this specific day and night and come back at the beginning of January for the rest of the journey. The Gaudi architecture is interesting enough to keep you busy for long days and there are a lot of food choices for every taste and budget.

3. Israel

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Outside Europe, and only four hours of flight away from Berlin with regular cheap flights every day, Israel offers everything: history, art, religion, beaches, great food, unique shopping, high-end hotels. Bonus: the warm weather. Last December, I enjoyed a couple of days at the beach or sipped my glass of red wine with a great sea view. Once in a while, there is a little snow coming up for a couple of days or minutes, but although everyone is welcoming the event with panic and fear, there is nothing to be afraid of. And if you really miss the snow so much, there may be even some ski options in the Mount Hermon area.

4. New Orleans, USA

How much I love this place! The jazz clubs hopping on Bourbon street, the feeling of getting lost in the middle of the houses with stylish iron balconies and the summer feeling all round the year. The food is special in comparison with the most part of America, with a lot of spices and wise dosis of French influences. What everyone visiting the city should do: book a riverboat tour on the one and only Mississippi.

5. Thailand

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My first winter escape at the end of my first year in Germany was in Thailand. I arrived in Bangkok in the last days of December and the first hours I went through a thermic shock. In Berlin there were some minus degrees and in this city I was hardly able to breath because of the heat wave. Outside the busy Bangkok with its street food and night markets there are many things to see in the Northern region, from temples where one can book a bike tour to hiking, to fancy hotels with swimming pools and silk factories. The North has also cuisine based on fruits and vegetables. The prices are almost symbolical and you will hardly be alone during this time of the year, with many English speaking expats and tourists roaming around. The islands are usually high end destinations with gorgeous hotels and villas to rent, but if you are rather the secluded type, you better do an exhaustive research about where to find your peaceful paradise.

I told to myself more than once that I have one day to learn to ski, encouraged but the saying that you are never old enough to start practising this sport. My friends still hope that one day will finally buy the proper clothes for this weather and use this winter time for some unique trips instead of repeatedly complaying for months about the hard life under the Central European cold – you see, even my conversations are limited because of this weather! I also remember one beautiful winter I spent in Oslo, the first time since childhood when I enjoyed the snow and crispy weather. However, if you will ask me to chose between a sunny destination and one covered by snow, my answer will definitely favor the choice no. 1. After all, one can learn to ski at any age, isn’t it?

 

Pregnant on the road, some lessons learned

The last summer and the last year in general was not one of my best in terms of travel. Maybe it was the worst in the last 10 years. However, there was a very serious reason to spend more time at home, reading or writing, for instance, than on the road: the baby D. was on his way and I had to follow a strict travel diet. But the things were not as bad in terms of travel as it may sound. I did spend almost every weekend outside Berlin and I extensively updated my knowledge about the city, despite the high heat and swollen feet. I did went by airplane twice, at the very beginning of the pregnancy, and spent almost 24 hours from London to Berlin by car. I did not bike, because I usually do not do it in ‘normal’ times, but spent at least two hours every day hiking or walking.

Now, with baby D. almost four months old and ready for his first big travel adventure, I am ready to share some tips for any woman traveller about to add a new member to the travel team.

  • Before you decide any travel plan, consult with your physician. Based on your age, type of pregnancy and specific situation, the doctor can recommend what are the best ways to cope with your wanderlust. After all, your health and the wellbeing of the baby matter the most.
  • Especially in the last months of pregnancy, avoid long trips. Try to keep your curiosity satisfied by exploring the local museums and your neighbourhoud.
  • If your situation allows, try to walk at least one slow hour the day. Avoid extreme hiking though and chose instead slow walks on flat terrain.
  • Always wear verz comfortable shoes. I hated my feet in the last two months of pregnancy: swollen and slow. However, I put in the closed any fancy high heells or uncomfortable shoes and intensively used a pair of sport shoes that were ugly but easy to wear.
  • Avoid carrying big bags. During one day and a bit trip to London, I had a small backpack, with some essentials.
  • Make as many stops as possible. No need to hurry up, take your time and look around. For me, the nine months of pregnancy were a blessed time when I savored every single second, slowly and focused on the present moment.
  • Drink a lot of liquids, especially if you travel during the hot summer days.
  • Include as many foodie stops as you need. Usually, I started my trips with a short stop for a little piece of cake and a cappuccino and continued with a generous lunch. And maybe an icecream a couple of hours later.

This was my happy and generally uneventful experience. Any thoughs and tips to share by other young mothers travelers around?

1001 Nights at Mt. Zion Hotel in Jerusalem

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It is winter in Jerusalem and there are alarming news running on TV about the imminent coming of a serious wave of snow – to be read that will last maybe one, two days instead of a couple of hours. As winter is not my friend and the last place on earth I want to be bothered by snow is in Jerusalem, I dream about a warm place where I can forget about cold and other bad snowy news. At least for one night, Mt. Zion Hotel is the perfect choice.

DSCN0264I passed near the hotel many times when on my way back from the city center, but was never too curious to have a look inside. Now, I have enough free time for slowly walking there from the city center – around 30 relaxed minutes. It is situated very close from the lively Tahana Rishona, where regularly events are taking place, but also from the tasty and affordable restaurants in Rehavia. Although close to entertainment areas, it is very quiet and discrete.DSCN0265

As the check-in takes place around 14.00 o’clock, I still have time to admire the stylish metal furniture with comfy blue pillows and the old Oriental carpets. I try to move from a place to another, curious to test many vantage points. The hotel overlooks the Hinnom Valley, the old city walls and the David’s citadel and the historical Yemin Moshe area.

DSCN0279Everything is suited to bring you peace and relaxation. I instantly fell in love with the painted wood of the furniture and the mixture between delicate vegetation and metal works. I fill my time reading various leaflets with information about tours and other attractions in English, Russian, French or Spanish or having a look at the good looking cakes from the bar. The friendly reception personnel, fluently English speakers, can help the guests to make various reservations, including airline and various flight details confirmations.DSCN0282I reach my room through a maze of corridors leading to a small courtyard and a garden surrounding a pool. Once I open the door of my suite, I am exactly in the kind of room I am expecting to have when on the road for a long time. Smooth colours, moderately stylish interior, a lot of space to both work and rest and relax.DSCN0283The metal framed furniture is also present here, but the intensive presence of wood brings the ambiance in the room to a more feminine, easy to cope with presence. I am in love with the colourful glass doorknobs of the close. I instantly find my place to the working table and happily start using the advantages of the very fast Internet – as everywhere in Israel, listen to that, dear Germany…Working in a space without windows is not necessarily my favourite type of office though.DSCN0284However, I can move with my laptop in the living room or on the balcony, but I am afraid will be too distracted to work by the beautiful view. The inviting bottle of red Yarden wine – one of my favourites – or the crafted cakes and fruits as well as the arabesques of the tables will be too disturbing. So I better go back into the windowless room to have some work done fast. DSCN0286

The rooms are fully equipped with everything you need in your modern life: big TV screen in the main living room and another small one in the bedroom, phone, hair dryer, tea and coffee making facilities, personal safe, air condition in every room. The doors lock automatically upon closing and everything makes you feel safe and relaxed. The beautiful smell brings you back to the world of 1001 Nights.

DSCN0288For longer or more family oriented stays, the kitchen offers the chance for preparing healthy meals. Out of the 137 rooms of the hotel, recently refurbished, 38 are Deluxe and family oriented, out of which 11 do have a balcony. The mini fridge can accommodate enough food for a couple of days. By request, a crib can be offered to families traveling with infants. Babysitting service is also offered. DSCN0296The Moroccan sink of the bathroom is another episode of the Oriental nights, with scents of lemon soap and various fine toiletries. DSCN0298A day in Jerusalem, either as a local or as a tourist is never easy, so spending time in the balcony and admiring the view is an inspired choice. Otherwise, those with more time can book a relaxing hammam stay or a spa treatment. The outdoors swimming is open from April till October.DSCN0304After going out to one of the many restaurants of the Tahana Rishona or Rehavia, the sweet treats from the room are the happy ending of the day. Bite after bite, I like to look more and more around in the suite, trying to figure out all the small details of the interior design. It seems that there is a duel between different strength of strong materials: stone, leather, metal, wood. Every single details is well balanced and harmonized by the choice of colours.DSCN0310In the morning, I woke up in the sound of the birds. The ecological and ergonomical pillows took a good care of my dreams and I feel fresh for a fresh start into the day. Just another beautiful day outside is waiting for me. Clearly, there is still a chance that there will not any winter in Jerusalem.DSCN0317Soon, I have to leave my secret retreat for the night, and I want to have one more look around my suite. These big walls were used since the end of the 19th century, at the beginning as an eye hospital. Mount Zion (Har Zion) is used as a hotel only in the last two decades, but it seems that the various redesigns brought the best from all worlds, with a lot of facilities and exquisite furniture and decoration choices for the guests.DSCN0319The breakfast helps me to forget that very soon I have to leave everything behind. The welcoming Israeli breakfast is waiting for me, with a mixture of various fruits and vegetables, fresh juices that can be made on the spot, traditional shakshuka. even cheesecake. For the summer mornings, the buffet can be tasted on the outside terrace. During the day, the restaurant and bar near the reception offers various special easy local meals, such as salmon filets, cheese plates, Greek and haloumi salad, falafel, kubeh or hummus as well as fresh sandwiches.DSCN0321

It is time to say ‘good bye’, but after such a lovely and welcoming stay, I plan to go back to enjoy some more spa and wellness one day. The sooner the better!

Disclaimer: I was offered a complimentary night at Mt. Zion Hotel, but the opinions are, as usual, my own

King David Hotel Jerusalem, the full taste of history

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Jerusalem is overwhelming due its heavy mixture of history, religion and politics, but there is also a different way to get to know the city, through its special luxury locations. Where, of course, between two sips of high end tea and morsels of gourmet food one can also learn a lot about historical facts, figures and events. Out of many places I’ve visited in Israel, nowhere suits more this description than the King David Hotel. When it was opened in 1931 after almost 10 years of hard work, the construction made of the local limestone, was partially owned by Ezra Mosseri, a director of National Bank of Egypt.DSCN0372The interior design details were slightly changed since then, keeping the old Oriental charm in the carpets or wall glass decorations. The dark corners are an invitation to discretion and peace, outside the always busy outside world. Special visitors enjoy usually the quietness of the reading room, with its cakes, coffee and teas.DSCN0398In a place where high profile political figures, from Margaret Thatcher to Clinton family or Nicolas Sarkozy or the current American president or King Abdullah I of Jordan or many others, were always at home here, every object has its own history. For instance, this massive wooden table, where the peace with Jordan was signed that was especially traveled on to Cairo. If the wood would have the gift of talking, how many news will provide…And over the last century, the hotel assumed its high profile and VIP status. Which had a price to pay sometimes, as it happened in July 1946 when the British headquarters hosted in the Southern wing were the target of an attack.

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After the Six Days War, two additional floors were added, offering a perfect view over the Mt. Zion and the old City of Jerusalem. The hotel went regularly through various design lifting, but the original style was always maintained. Some hotels may change dramatically from an era to another, but King David always remains the same, outline the representatives of the company that guided my visit from the lobby to the top of the building. Nowadays, the hotel is part of the Dan Group Hotels, which decided to keep the spirit of the place, operating minimal changes at various levels, but using almost the same type of materials.

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At the beginning of January, there is the best time to book a room, as there are not too many visitors on the way, except the regular, faithful guests. The hotel has its own portfolio of customers, that keep coming here over and over again over the years. Like the Douglas Family (the Kirk and Michael, of course) who always stop here for a shorter or longer stay. The rate of returning guests is around 50%, and most part of the year, the hotel is fully booked.

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The outdoor pool, the biggest of this kind in Jerusalem, is ready to be used two weeks before the Jewish holidays of Pesach – around April – and is open till the mid-November. The beautiful big garden offers a great relaxation oasis, but also enough space for children to play. Especially during the big Jewish holidays, the hotel is usually booked in advance and various family events are hosted all round the clock.

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When the weather does not allow the outside wanderings – meaning that there are only around 10C -the special gourmet restaurant, with outstanding French touch offers a delight to the senses. At the beginning of the last year, I was invited to have a taste of the high-end afternoon tea, an innovation among the hotels in Jerusalem, which impressed even a very selective person as me.

DSCN0380For children, there are special babysitting services offered, unique gifts and tailored meals. From weddings – of up to 250 persons attendance – to various special events – like bat or bar mitzva – parties, the space can suit every special needs. There is even a special synagogue that can be used for unique occasions. The only condition is to make a reservation many months in advance, as the demand is very high. DSCN0387The wine collection has almost everything an expert and wine lover would expect. Enough to test and taste for a couple of years from now on. The prices are usually affordable, allowing also local people to have their unique moment of glory here.DSCN0388

The Regence meat restaurant is asking for a special extensive tasting experience, and the menu list where I spotted various kosher lamb veals and goose liver meals, regularly changed up to season or the gourmet preferences, makes the imagination wander far far away in the world of delicious foods. For the night owls, the Oriental Bar is open daily from 17 to 00 o’clock.

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Moving from a space to another is like visiting both a museum of history and a classical arts and design location. The current view is the result of the hard work of Adam Tiani, commissioned to do various changes into the structure and outlook of the rooms also.

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Special business oak room is available for hosting private dinners or business presentations, being provided with the latest facilities and technology, including free wifi and space for special projections. The old historical sepia or black and white paintings are here to remember how past, present and future should always stay connected. For the corporate clients, members of the Corporate Club, there are special facilities and discounts offered. The hotel also has a private parking place.

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High-end modern facilities are also provided by the fitness space. Outdoors, the tennis grounds are offering even more options for a fit stay at the hotel. There is also a ping pong space and a hammam for a relaxing ending of the sport practice.

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As in the case of the lobby, the rooms have an Oriental touch, with warm colours and simple combinations. 130 rooms are maintained in the typical old style, with a view over the old city of Jerusalem. If the lobby evokes the reminiscence of the old Egyptian or Syrian influences, the rooms were little by little oriented towards a more residential and business outlook. The silks of the curtains and the velvets of the bed covers are creating powerful impressions and a special mysterious ambiance.DSCN0423The diversity of the rooms and suites offered answers a big  is big and especially the big families with children are given a lot of choices. There is the Jerusalem Suite and the Royal Suite, the President and Deluxe Suite, the Executive and various Duplex suites. The views are different, but there is hardly a view that can be considered ‘bad’ in Jerusalem, as every corner may have its special history and special memories. For those interested to find out more, the hotel can book special tours made by recognized experts.

DSCN0429All the rooms are provided with wifi and at the top floors, the tv set is inserted in the bathroom mirrors. Sliding panels can extend or separate the spaces, in order to . A special concierge service is registering the requests of the customers before arrival trying to offer the best expectations. “Our customers, some of them frequent guests for over 30 years, know what they want. We just want to offer answer their demands”, I am told by the representatives of the hotel.DSCN0430There are at least 6 volumes of signatures of the famous guests of King David Hotel. From private political meetings to VIP family gatherings and film shooting – Exodus was filmed here in 1960 – this hotel has a lot of stories to tell. The secret of its survival despite various hotel trends and fashions and boutique temptations: building a brand and keeping the stories in. Like the city of Jerusalem itself.

Disclaimer: I was offered a complimentary tour of the hotel, but the opinions are, as usual, my own.

2015 in review, and some travel resolutions

 

Compared with the previous years, 2015 was a very poor one in terms of travel! No new country added on the list, few spectacular places visited and only 2 destinations outside Germany, both places that I know very well, covered: London and Israel. My blogging had ups and downs, with a long writing break between end of August and end of October.

However, many interesting things happened into my not so travelling life: I extensively went almost every week-ends in small green paradises around Berlin, discovering oasis of quietness and some great food too. I got my first full time job in Germany after many years of freelancing and unsuccessfully applying for various positions. And the most important of all my achievements sofar, baby boy D., born three months ago, my best excuse ever to slow down a bit more and rather focus on taking care of the new life. Last but not least, I added Instagram at my online brandig portfolio – #Ilanaontheroad – which I enjoy to experiment a lot with, especially during the time when waiting to be released from hospital.

But little by little, everything is back on the track and it is about time for a basic wishes’ planning. As for now, I still have some travel stories to tell from the last year and this will keep the blog busy till the new adventure is ready. I have a couple of travel and writing books that I need to read, preparing to finally start writing my own serious writing projects.  Technically speaking, my blog needs a serious relift and I will have to find the easiest and best technical way to make it look a little bit better.

Baby boy D. is also ready to travel, with his first long trip already done to Potsdam. We are ready to start discoverig the world together,  one little wonder at once. After so many years spent travelling across Europe, I know that it is about time to pay more attention to travel stories from outside my comfort zone. But as I have on my agenda the need to dramatically improve my Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, most probably I will have to include at least three classical European destinations too.

As usual, I am very cautious with making plans, but I am trying at least to make some wishes and only hope that it’s all for good!

Till the next post, keep in touch with many good travel news! And a phantastic travel year to all my readers!